Home Health Providers Embrace Tele-Nursing

July 30th, 2012

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By , BSN, RN

Here at RNCentral.com we are fascinated with all the inroads the electronic age is making in healthcare. I mean, come on, we are all about online education opportunities for nurses, keeping up your continuing education responsibilities with online CEU courses, and we stand behind the move towards EMRs, EHRs, and PNRs.

On a more personal level I love all this cool technology. Talking to Connie Barden, RN, a tele-ICU educator, was fascinating. It is truly amazing how computers and the internet can help us up our game in providing on-the-spot, real-time, quality healthcare.

Now, it seems, tele-health is moving into home health. This story was first brought to my attention by Kevin Ross, RN over at Innovative Nurse. Ross is, among other things, a great advocate of advancing healthcare and using technology to do so. A little article on a visiting nurse association starting to use tele-health to reach more patient captured his attention, and then mine.

The Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Vermont and New Hampshire (VNAVNH), and VGo Communications, the leader in robotic tele-presence, are announcing their agreement to be the first home health agency in New England to deploy tele-presence robots to help deliver care in New Hampshire and Vermont clients’ homes.

Now, if you know anything about Vermont and New Hampshire you know urban settings are not their strong suit. Both of these states are made up of beautiful mountains, rivers and ponds, and moose—and not a lot of people. It is beautiful country with lots of picturesque hamlets and usually big snows in the winter. Much of the population lives scattered about these two small states and depending on the season getting in and out can be very difficult. That means being a visiting nurse can be a real challenge.

“We are continually looking for ways to increase levels of care, independence and safety in the home,” said Jeanne A. McLaughlin MSN, MSEd, and President/CEO of VNAVNH. “VGo is the first affordable solution that enables us to expand client engagement without a dramatic increase in cost, while still preserving a person to person interaction.

”People often need more care and attention, not less, but that’s hard to do in rural areas without an army of staff. VGo’s lightweight and ease of deployment means that nurses and doctors can now visit with select patients more frequently, McLaughlin said. “By eliminating the need to travel for each visit, professional staff can better utilize their time and respond to client’s needs and unforeseen problems that arise much quicker.”

The VNAVNH serves nearly 113 towns in Vermont and New Hampshire and provides healthcare coverage over 4,000 square miles along the Connecticut River Valley. They care for more than 5,000 people each year, making over 132,000 home visits to people of all ages and at all stages of life.

The VGo robots give nurses the freedom to move around a patient as if they were physically there. With VGo, you can see, hear, talk, interact, and go anywhere. VGo is not a traditional videoconferencing/tele-presence solution where two or more people meet using specially equipped rooms or PCs in their offices. With VGo, you are completely independent of the people in the distant location – it’s 100% remote controlled.

VNAVNH will initially use its fleet of VGo robots in four ways:

  • Care and support for clients recovering from surgery or for others with complex medical needs.
  • Clinical specialty support for home healthcare or hospice nurses.
  • Wound care assessment and treatment consultation
  • Consultation for chemotherapy, antibiotics, hydration or other infusion therapies.

“VNAVNH’s visionary approach to improving healthcare at home is a perfect match with our goals of replicating a person in a distant location at a very affordable cost,” said Peter N. Vicars, CEO of VGo. “For about $10 a day, healthcare professionals can visit more clients, spending more time with each one and less time on the road. Researchers have proven that patients enjoy interacting with their caregivers using VGo and look forward to each visit.”

The VGo even, sort of, looks like you have a new friend or nurse in the house. VGo stands 4-foot-6 inches tall, weighs 17-pounds, has two wheels and video monitor face. The robot is even dressed in white, like the nurses of old.

With cameras, advanced audio gear, and a video screen on its “face,’’ the robot allows the patient and their caregivers to talk with nurses and doctors anywhere in the country. They can see and communicate back-and-forth, take close-up photos of surgical sites and scars, wounds or any other body part or anomaly, and doctors and nurses can review, and help determine what type of care or medications are needed.

While it seems that the national nursing shortage is somewhat contained for the moment in rural areas and some small states like Vermont and New Hampshire it can be hard to recruit enough nurses to provide all the states’ healthcare needs. There is competition from big nearby cities and major medical centers for the limited nursing personnel available for employment. With a tele-presence a single nurse can literally cover two or three times as much territory without leaving an office and see two or three times as many patients.

It seems to me there are other benefits to systems like VGo. As a home health care provider it is certainly more “green” if you aren’t out driving around all the time. And, how about a time and money saver? For patients being able to talk to their nurse or doctor without leaving the house means no, often long, trips into a hospital or clinic and for the healthcare provider if you don’t have to spend your time driving around you have more time to actually spend with your patients. It’s like getting the personal touch back without being there in person.

I look forward to seeing how this system works out. It seems like a win-win situation for difficult healthcare settings.

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